“Another Apple Watch review?” you ask… Yes. That’s right – me too. I’ve spent the last week working with the latest device in the Apple family, and yep – it’s lived up to my expectations! Although if you know me well – you’ll know I’m a pretty big fanboy, so I’m undoubtably biased.
The Apple Watch has been surrounded in fanfare since it’s announcement at WWDC in June last year, and aside from a few rumoured manufacturing issues, the launch of the watch has been a resounding success for Apple, with significant developer interest and sales exceeding 2 million units in the first 24 hours, enough to certainly turn the heads of the Motorola execs, manufacturers of the competing Android Wear device.
Certainly there is a lot of hype around this device, more than I have seen of any other wearable. It is instantly recognisable with it’s bright sporty bands, and a face that “is very Apple”. So much so, that my morning coffee was served with the question “is that the Apple Watch?” on the first day of wearing it, a question repeated many times throughout the first week.
Apple have again nailed the customer experience, starting with the contents of the box. Included inside are two straps – to suit a larger and smaller wrist. Whilst the sports band that came with my watch is not as initially comfortable as I had hoped (I have worn a leather strap for the last 4-5 years), I quickly grew fond of it, although, I did find it a little uncomfortable after several hours of use. Additionally Apple has included the new magnetic charger with a 2m cable which is a welcome change from the shorter iPhone cable. The magnetic charger is simple to use and snaps locked to the underneath of the watch without too much hassle – removing the need to fumble around in the dark looking for the charger port. Hopefully we will see this sort of technology incorporated into the iPhone 7 next month at WWDC.
After all the pre-release conjecture around the battery life of the watch, one week in – I have nothing bad to say about the Watch’s battery life. I know right? Nothing. Aside from the first day when I gave it a thorough test drive – most days I have put the watch to charge at night time with close to 50% battery still remaining. I have one complaint though – my iPhone battery seems to be draining a bit faster since pairing the watch, but given it’s plugged in for development most of the day, it hasn’t been an issue. I could see the average user getting frustrated with this.
It’s going to take a little while for developers to understand where the watch fits in the Apple ecosystem. Unfortunately, I found most applications on the watch a disappointment with very little thought put into how the watch is used, and how watch applications can be used to enhance their partner mobile applications.
Developing for the watch requires dealing with micro interactions (less than 10 seconds), and removing friction for the user is going to be critical so that interfaces are clear and simple and not cluttered with content better suited to mobile. Apple in their wisdom have restricted developers in the first iteration of the operating system to ensure that interfaces are not cluttered and confusing for the user.
Notifications and glances are the clear winners on the watch. I found over time that I stopped looking at my phone’s notification centre as the notifications came through to the watch. It also meant that when someone received a phone call in a meeting – I wouldn’t go scrambling, anxiously looking for my phone.
Notifications however, can also be annoying – Within hours I was really frustrated with the number of notifications coming through for Periscope (incidentally – the mute function in the Periscope app seems to have a bug) and apps like Shazam sending through “advertising” notifications. App Developers will now need to be careful with the number of notifications sent to users as they create much more “noise” for a watch user instead of just piling up in notification centre on the phone.
There were a few applications that I feel nailed the watch experience. Uber has done a remarkable job to cut down the interface to the the things that matter to the user – how far a driver is away, and a button to make a request for your current location. It’s simplicity like this which will thrive on the watch.
Another application that has managed to keep the interface simple is Pulse VIC a transport app for Melbourne. One of the first transport apps in the App Store with Watch support, it’s watch app is an elegant list of your favourite stops, with a count down timer till the next departure.
There were some notable absentees that I thought were obvious candidates for a watch app. I was disappointed that Spotify does not yet have a watch app. As I was moving around my house with Spotify playing through my TV, it would have been nice to quickly be able to skip through tracks, or even quickly change playlist from the watch.
The other well reported app that is yet to have a presence is Facebook. I received quite a few messages on Facebook over the last week and every time my natural instinct was to open the notification and try to respond on the watch. Talking in public on the microphone within public still feels odd and unnatural – however within my home I felt comfortable doing so. The sooner Facebook arrives on the watch the better!
Messaging too is one of the power features of the watch. From the advertising “Digital Touch” looked like a gimmicky addition just to show on adverts, but I have to admit the first time I received a digital touch message with a drawing – I found it quite fun and engaging. It really is a “surprise and delight” experience for users of the watch. I can see parents and children sending quick fun drawings to each other, during the day and when they are away from home, and kids getting distracted at school sending digital touch messages instead of passing notes in class.
The let down around the new messaging capabilities is that the watch isn’t widely available yet, so my interactions have limited to sending taps and my heartbeat to a work colleague. Fun at first, but very quickly becoming awkward! Thankfully my colleague has been patient with me demoing the features over and over to people and him being the guinea pig on the other end.
The fitness features of the watch are cool as well, and a slick mobile app that accompanies the watch makes it nice to use on a day to day basis. Apple have tried to gamify the experience using badges and “points” based on the number of steps you make, how often you stand and your total exercise habits. I can see this working for some people, but if you have been using any apps that make use of HealthKit such as Lark then you may find these features a bit same-same.
One thing I have noticed is that I check my heart rate a lot more now, the heart rate checker being my go-to Glance. During a gym session this gave me good feedback on how my body work working and whether I could push myself much harder when running or on the bike. I liked having this instantaneous feedback.
Overall – the first week with the watch has been very positive. I think the Watch is a great addition, and the current offering is the most attractive wearable on the market, but Apple will need to keep developing it as they have the phone operating system over time to ensure that it stays relevant and useful for it’s customers.
While early apps are still finding their fit, a few new SDKs and Interface components for the watch being introduced at WWDC will see the watch become a lot more developer friendly. Introducing support for NFC alongside home kit for example would really open up opportunities for developers – especially in the IoT / Digital Home space. Additionally, although we haven’t got to play with Apple Pay in Australia yet – I can really see the use case for the Apple Watch here given the simplicity of tapping the watch to the card reader, Hopefully Apple will make some announcements soon about support for Apple Pay outside of the US.
What are you favourite things about the Apple Watch? Are there things that you think they could have improved? Let me know on Twitter – @forbze